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Bridgewater

Union protests health plan shift

Unionized workers at Bridgewater State Hospital are protesting what they say is a bid by the private firm that employs them to sharply increase their health care costs.

MHM Services is seeking a new plan as part of negotiations for a new contract for 130 workers at the facility, according to 1199SEIU, the union representing the workers.

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The Virginia-based firm provides some of the health care services at the state Department of Correction’s Bridgewater State Hospital, which houses criminally insane and accused people undergoing psychiatric evaluation. The firm is part of Massachusetts Partnership for Correctional Health, the department’s health care vendor.

The workers, who include licensed and registered nurses, nursing assistants, phlebotomists, and mental health support staff, held a protest at the Middleborough Rotary recently to call attention to the dispute.

“Workers at Bridgewater State Hospital are drawing a line in the sand and standing up for what’s right by saying people who provide care to the population at Bridgewater State Hospital ought to have access to affordable care for themselves and their families,” said Jeff Hall, a spokesman for 1199SEIU, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union.

In a statement, MHM said, “We have enjoyed a very constructive and professional partnership with the union for over six years and anticipate we will come to a positive resolution on this matter for both parties. We value the individuals who every day perform this very difficult work and remain committed to future communications. However, it is our policy not to discuss the details of our negotiations in the public forum.”

The change sought by MHM would replace the workers’ existing no-deductible health insurance plan with one that has annual deductibles of $3,250 for individuals and $6,500 for families, according to Hall.

The change would reduce premiums from $1,520 to $416 for individuals, and $4,080 to $2,994 for families. But Hall said the deductibles would far outstrip those savings, noting that total potential health care costs for employees – deductibles plus premiums – could surge to $3,666 for individuals and $9,494 for families.

“Health care workers at Bridgewater State hospital are fully open to making changes and cost saving modifications to the current plan, but what MHM has been pushing is so extreme that it really is beyond the pale,” Hall said.

Mary Hammond, who has been employed for about four years at the hospital as a mental health support staff worker, said that if the change went through, she would not be able to cover her health care costs and “I would probably be forced to quit and get public assistance.”

“We give medical care to the criminally insane. If we can do that and they have the best, why can’t we have affordable insurance?” she said.

Cara Savelli, a spokesman for the Department of Correction, said the agency “has no comment at this time as the contract negotiations are ongoing.”

Hall said the two sides, which last met on Aug. 23, are set to resume negotiations on Wednesday.

John Laidler can be reached at laidler@globe.com.
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